Account Based Marketing (or “ABM”) is a hugely underrated outreach tool in business-to-business marketing. This outreach tactic can greatly assist your company in entering new markets, attacking new verticals, or even engaging prospects for an upcoming event or product release.
However, to be effective, this type of marketing involves a lot of preparation, coordination between multiple departments, and timed execution. Without the proper attention to these areas, you will end up six months into an ineffective campaign, with too much money spent and little insight into where you went wrong.
At Kalungi, we’ve seen many B2B SaaS companies who want to bolster their current marketing efforts with effective ABM campaigns. But growing an Account Based Marketing campaign from nothing to a comprehensive lead-generation effort can be daunting for companies with no experience.
If you find yourself considering implementing an ABM campaign for your business, here are some steps to take to make sure that its a success.
Download your guide to executing an effective B2B SaaS Account-Based Marketing Campaigns and use it as reference when you're planning your next ABM campaign.
Account Based Marketing is a form of outbound marketing that can be used to complement a typical inbound marketing strategy. This process takes the typical sales/marketing funnel and flips it on its head, starting with prospects that are the best fit for a product or service but may not be ready to purchase. The strategy will then nurture them through the sales cycle and expand its leads through referrals and word of mouth.
So, instead of blasting emails and ads out to a huge audience and seeing who decides to “opt-in” and show interest, an ABM campaign would choose a small group of candidates that may not even know about your product yet but are a perfect fit for it. Once you’ve found these promising contacts, you can expand your list by searching for other contacts or accounts that share similar qualities to them. This allows you to learn more about your top prospects with each iteration and expand your list while refining your search criteria.
Once you have a solid foundational list, you need to engage these prospects with effective messaging that speaks to each specific contact, as well as their fears & dreams, giving them an incentive to connect with and respond to you. This process also involves retargeting the prospects and nurturing them down the sales funnel and towards a purchase.
And finally, once you have effectively engaged and guided the best prospects to purchase, you need to capitalize on their interest by giving them the opportunity to tell others how great you are. This can involve referral incentives, or having them create their own testimonial to attract even more customers like them.
Follow these 7 steps to execute an effective B2B SaaS ABM campaign:
The first and most foundational thing you can do for an effective ABM campaign is to know who you need to target. Many companies enjoy having massive outreach lists because of the potential that they have, and the revenue that can be unlocked if they can be properly outreached to. However, in marketing, especially with B2B SaaS companies, when you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one because you produce generic messaging that doesn’t really speak to any group of people.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t keep your inbound “net” open to customers that fit a wider range of criteria, but because Account Based Marketing is more like spear fishing, you need to be really conscientious about who you target. Because this type of marketing revolves entirely around who you reach out to, it is imperative that you pick companies that would be the top tier customers, if they converted to purchase your service.
At Kalungi, we like to use a framework called the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) for our B2B SaaS clients. This framework is designed to identify companies (not people or contacts) that would be a great fit for your product based on a set of criteria. We typically break these criteria into Filters and Signals. Filters are the criteria that are “make-or-break” or are entirely necessary for a company to be a good fit, while Signals are “nice-to-haves” and wouldn’t be a deal-breaker if a company didn’t qualify for them.
Here is a list of potential Filters and Signals that you could use for your business:
How do you develop an ICP for your company? Interview some of your best customers to figure out which ones are the easiest to onboard, the most profitable, or see the most value with your product to help you come up with this list. You can also interview Sales, Marketing, Customer Success, and Executives to gain more insight into which customers are the best fit. Once you’ve completed enough of these interviews, use the patterns you see in the best customers you’ve spoken to, and develop your list of Filters and Signals and create your Ideal Customer Profile.
Once you’ve developed your ICP, use this new information to refine your Segmented Addressable Market (SAM) down to a list of the best accounts within that market. This list will be the basis for your entire ABM campaign and will also be a great indicator of your chosen market’s potential or of your Go To Market Strategy’s effectiveness.
It doesn’t do you any good to have a list of the best companies to go after if you don’t know which people you need to address in those companies. With this in mind, it is important to use the knowledge that you’ve gained from your ICP exercise and take it a step further by creating up to a handful of personas that will give you the most success, within those companies.
Some questions to answer when creating your personas are:
Like the ICP exercise above, interview your best current customers, Sales, Marketing, Customer Success, and Executives to get a clear picture of who these personas are. At the end of the day, you should have a document with a handful of different personas to address, and for each one, a set of defining characteristics. Some characteristics that we’ve used are:
There are many ways to build a list of ABM contacts and the method can vary drastically on your price point, the tools at your disposal, and the time that you have to put the list together.
One method that is often used is purchasing a list. Doing this will generate a list of thousands of contacts for you to go after at the push of a button. However, while this method is very fast, it can also be very expensive, costing tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars. List data can also often be incomplete or out of date. Some list building companies only refresh their data intermittently, which can lead to out-of-date contacts and, as a result, embarrassing outreach mistakes.
Another option is to use event attendees to slowly build a list of potential contacts. This can be done by attending events that generally fit your ICP and paying for a list of attendees on its own or through a sponsorship. This method will take time to put together and will need to be filtered to ensure that the companies in it fit your company’s ICP and the contacts in it fit your personas. However, it would produce an accurate (at the time) list of contacts for you to reach out to.
A third method is utilizing services like LinkedIn or Linkedin’s Sales Navigator tool to manually create a list. This service is much cheaper than purchasing a list but can generate a similar or even better outcome than purchasing a list, as long as you have the time and bandwidth to dedicate to ensure that the list quality remains high. Linkedin also arguably has the best B2B outreach contact database available. This Sales Navigator starts at $64.99 per month and gives you access to a more advanced lead search, allowing you to filter contacts by company attributes such as employee size and industry. However, on its own, LinkedIn has limited company information, making it difficult to ensure that contacts have a good fit with the Ideal Customer Profile. Even with Sales Navigator, which unlocks those attributes, it is a difficult process to combine the personal information of LinkedIn with the company information of Sales Navigator.
At Kalungi, we like to combine an existing list (such as a purchased list or multiple event lists) with LinkedIn and Sales Navigator to build a truly comprehensive list. The existing list quickly gives us a general view of the market, while the LinkedIn information gives us up to date, granular data to match each company to our ICP and each contact with our personas. Once this information is combined into one cohesive dataset, it can be refined to show how big your Serviceable Obtainable Market (or “SOM”) really is, stress test your Go To Market Strategy, and used to create relevant content for your outreach campaigns.
Now that you have your ICP and Personas nailed down, it’s time to communicate with them. But how do you make sure that you’re effectively communicating with each person and properly showcasing the value that your solution can drive for their companies?
The secret lies in utilizing the knowledge you’ve gained from your ICP and personas and applying it to each stage in the customer journey: Awareness, Consideration, and Conversion. For an impactful Account Based Marketing campaign, you will create content for each of these stages that provides general product & company information for Awareness, technical details and pricing for Consideration, and urgency for Conversion. Every piece of content in each stage should be designed to appropriately educate prospects for where they are in the customer journey and push them on to the next phase.
Here’s the types of content we’ve created for our most successful ABM campaigns:
We also like to organize our content into a framework that shows each customer persona, each funnel stage, and the content that applies to each. This allows you to find and fill content gaps while you create a comprehensive plan to address each persona, all the way through the customer journey.
Once you’ve built out your content repository, you should be able to effectively contact each persona in each stage of the customer journey and guide them down the sales funnel.
How do you deliver that content to prospects in a way that makes them open to consuming it? This can be particularly difficult with outbound messaging because you are reaching out to people that may or may not have heard of you, and might not even know that they have a problem that needs fixing. As a result, people are much more suspicious of cold outbound messages than when in the inbound customer journey.
Put yourself in the prospect’s shoes for a minute. We are all (unfortunately) used to our inboxes being overrun by email ads and cold sales pitches that take our attention away from the important things that we need to get done every day. As a result, we are very quick to discard a message from an unknown sender who is giving us just another sales pitch. We often give messages in our inbox a quick skim of the subject (and maybe if the sender is lucky, a glance at the first sentence) before throwing the message in the trash.
Because of this, your initial outbound messages need to immediately provide value for the reader with a few key elements:
One example of completing steps 3 & 4 that we have seen work well has been to ask prospects for their input in an industry whitepaper that we are putting together, as we are seeking to learn more about potential customers. This process involves them having a quick interview with one of our staff, in which we ask them about their pain points and aspirations as they relate to our service. In return, we promise them the report that we will generate. This gives the prospect a view of the industry landscape, as well as some best practices that they can follow to improve their business.
There is a general rule in marketing, as well as many other things, that you should always be testing. This sentiment is particularly true with ABM messaging because it’s much harder than your typical inbound messaging. With ABM messaging, you are reaching out to someone who may not even know that they have a problem yet, and trying to convince them to spend someone else’s money on you.
As you can imagine, this process can be quite difficult, and while a typical messaging framework may give you the content to put in your messages, there’s no one way to hook a reader and convince them of your product’s worth. As a result, you need to constantly be A/B testing so that you can make data-backed decisions on what messages are working and should be utilized more, and which ones are failing and need to be dropped from the cadence.
There are many avenues that you can use to engage prospects in an ABM campaign. In fact, any medium that you can use to communicate with someone directly can be effectively utilized.
For simplicity’s sake, I’ll focus on the most popular ABM channels that we have utilized at Kalungi: LinkedIn, Email, and Phone. Each method has its own drawbacks and benefits, but all are very effective for getting your message to the right people, in a way that they will be receptive to and will push them down the funnel.
LinkedIn is Kalungi’s most utilized ABM channel because of its messaging capability, as well as its list enrichment abilities. LinkedIn allows you to message contacts anything with up to 300 characters, for free. Additionally, if and when you connect with a contact, you instantly gain all of their professional information including, roles, responsibilities, email, and sometimes phone numbers.
However, one of the best parts of LinkedIn outreach is that when you reach out, you are considered a person, not a bot. You have a photo, a background, and a resume, which humanizes you. Because of these factors, LinkedIn is one of (if not) the most accurate and up-to-date B2B outreach lists available, as everyone is constantly updating their LinkedIn profile with every big professional milestone that they achieve. These three elements combine to make a relatively cheap tool that allows you to effectively message your targets, learn more about them, and nurture them down the sales funnel.
Email’s big advantage over LinkedIn is that it doesn’t have a character limit on its initial outreach messages. You can write as much as you want and you won’t be limited at all. However, there are some tradeoffs that go along with that freedom.
Luckily, you can purchase email tools like Outreach.io to help manage your email outreach campaigns. Tools like these can automate email blasts, throttle message-sending to evade spam filters, and even A/B test your messaging to ensure that you’re always optimizing your outreach to prospects. These tools are a must-have for an effective email outreach campaign, and will exponentially increase your reach with automation and make you smarter with analytics.
Phone outreach is the most effective outreach channel that we’ve worked with. Phone outreach is by far the most personal method. It also gives you a chance to really get to know your prospective customer, and their fears and dreams so that you can a) figure out if your product would be a good fit for the customer, and b) know how to quickly and effectively communicate the value of your product to that customer. The phone call, when done right, is also an extremely personable and targeted medium for outreach, as it allows the consumer to get to know you and your company in a way that is directly applicable to their business.
While you can write scripts and call guides, you have to perform each call individually and if you’re lucky enough to get someone on the phone, you have to have a real conversation with them to convert them down the funnel towards requesting more information or scheduling a demo.
However, phone outreach is also the hardest and most time-consuming outreach method because of the personalization it requires, the amount of time it takes to make each phone call properly, and following up with the majority of people who don’t answer on the first attempt. As a result, if you want to have an effective phone outreach program, you usually have to invest in hiring a team of Business Development Representatives and commit to diligently tracking selling techniques and conversion metrics, to ensure you retain a positive ROI.
There are many schools of thought about how to best outreach to cold prospects. However, the sequences that we seem to have the most success seem to have a few things in common:
In particular, we gravitate towards the Agoge Sequence for cold outreach.
The Agoge Sequence is a widely-utilized cold outreach technique that promises high conversion rates with a simple, formulaic approach. This sequence uses a specialized messaging and highly-specific combination of touches from social, email, and the phone to drive engagement from prospects that may have never even heard of your company before. Also, the sequence uses short, personalized touches maximizes results-for-your-effort, and uses automated cadences to continue driving results without the need for additional input.
Here’s a brief overview of how it works:
The Agoge Sequence builds all of its success off the first two sentences of the first email that is sent to the prospect. The secret of this first outreach is to personalize the first sentence and get the prospect’s attention by mentioning a unique attribute about the prospect, their role, or their company.
This detail takes minimal time and effort and, more importantly, shows your contact that you care about their individual problems and that you aren’t just blasting them with a generic sales pitch. This customization can be completed through going on their company website, reading blog articles they’ve written, or even just looking at their LinkedIn profile. But more importantly, it starts your interaction off on a human note that softens the viewer from their typically cynical approach to cold emails.
Once you have created a personalized first sentence, you must follow it with a sentence that ties the first sentence to a value proposition of the product you are trying to sell. Do this in a way that ties a problem the prospect is likely having (think fears and dreams) to a benefit that your product or service provides. Follow this with supporting information, stats, and even a client quote, if you can keep it brief.
Finally, end with a clear call to action. Here are some examples:
The Agoge cadence is all about contacting you targets multiple times through multiple sources, in rapid succession. The whole point of the cadence is to show that you’re a real person and to keep you top of mind, while keeping your messages at the top of the target’s inbox throughout the cadence.
Showing you’re a real person is all about how effective you can make your social media touches. To do this, you can use the same type of messaging that you use in your emails, but you need to make sure that you’re touching your prospect on the social media that they use. So if your prospects use LinkedIn, use LinkedIn, and so on. To continue on with the LinkedIn example you can complete multiple types of touches like a connection request, a message, and a profile view, to keep the prospect thinking about you and your solution.
You can keep your service/product at the top of the prospect’s mind by “bumping” your initial email back up to the top of the inbox in steps 4 & 7 with a “just seeing if you got this...” or an “Any thoughts?” These simple messages are short enough to keep your original message visible without any additional scrolling, allowing you to get 3x the mileage out of your original messages with no extra effort.
You can use phone calls to keep the messages extremely personalized and learn exactly what your prospect’s problems are and how your product/service can solve them. You facilitate this by reading the first lines of your initial email to prime your memory. Then, when you get them on the phone, use the conversation as an opportunity to get to know them, their company, their position, and their problems & opportunities, rather than a chance to tell them why your product is so great. The more you can get the prospect to talk about themselves, the better. That way, you become a trusted resource and the value propositions that you give them will be hyper-targeted at their specific issues.
Finally, you can use a “break up email”. This tactic is used when you have run through the entire sequence with no response and have one last shot at getting a connection. I like to think of it as a hail mary, where, you have little to gain by being conservative and little to lose by taking a risk. The risk you take will depend on the prospect you’re talking to, their role, and the social norms of your industry but here are a few tactics you can employ:
See below an example of the Agoge Sequence:
So you’ve done all the work to set up your ABM process. You’ve figured out your ICP, personas, messaging and cadence and someone responded with interest! What do you do now? It’s great that you’ve targeted, outreached, and messaged effectively to gain interest! Now you have to do the hard work of guiding them through the customer journey towards a sale.
The tough part about ABM is that when you do get an outbound lead, the sales cycle is much longer than when you get an inbound one. As a result, the leads that you get may be interested in your service, but don’t need something right now, or need to get budget approval first, or already have a competing solution, leading to long decision processes. This means that you have to adjust your expectations when talking with outbound prospects. Don’t push them for a sale because they’re not ready for one. In fact, it would be foolish to expect a quick sale from a cold outreach. Sure, they do happen, but those are the outliers. The outbound sales cycle is long and you need to nurture your ABM prospects to be successful.
At Kalungi, we like to do this by becoming a resource for our leads. This could mean educating them on the industry and its offerings, giving them information on what products to look at, or even telling them how to evaluate their current solution, even if it means telling them that they’re not a good fit for our product. This method could seem counter-intuitive to some. After all, why would you waste all of that time and effort on a lead that hasn’t even shown a serious interest in your product or service?
The reason we choose this strategy is because we want our clients to become thought leaders in their industry and in the eyes of any potential customer that they come into contact with. That means that our clients become trusted advisors, showing their prospects that they are experts in the space. This means that, while our clients might not get the sale right away, but when their prospects are ready for a new solution, our clients will be the first companies that they look at, because they have developed credibility and authority with their prospects.
It is also vitally important to create these resources for prospects because you need to make it worth their while to interact with you. Prospects are much more likely to answer your emails or connect with you if they get something in return. Think about yourself for a second. Would you be more inclined to accept an email from someone who was just asking you to buy their product, or someone who wanted your opinion on something and offered you information that helped you solve a professional problem, in return?
Here are a few ways that you can nurture prospects, once they’ve connected and expressed interest:
One other reason to create resources and share them with your prospects is slightly more self-serving: you can use these resources to retarget your prospects after they’ve left your site. You can do this by placing a “pixel” on the resources from 3rd party platforms such as Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn. These pixels cookie your viewers and allow you follow them around the internet, serving them ads across millions of different sites.
Once you set up accounts with the correct channels and place pixels on the resources you plan to push people to with your outreach, you can then create simple retargeting ads that guide them further through the customer journey. These ads will take a step down the funnel and have Calls to Action that offer case studies or white paper resources on your solution or industry, to give your prospects market insights, and real-world examples of how your solution can benefit companies like theirs. It also can’t hurt to throw in a bottom-of-the funnel facing ad here and there that guides viewers to schedule a demo or experience a free trial.
On top of just getting your logo and message in front of prospects again, retargeting ads generally perform very well, when compared to their traditional counterparts. In fact, a recent MarketLand article explained that retargeting ads often have Click-Through-Rates of “0.30%-0.95% - which is 3-10x higher than the industry average.”
However, retargeting is also a bit of a double-edged sword, so you have to be careful with how you use it. While it does boast great Click-Through Rates, it also has the propensity to irritate prospects who feel that you have invaded their privacy or took advantage of their trust in you for personal gain. As a result, it is critical that you pay close attention to who your audience is that you’re serving these ads to, as well as where and how often you’re delivering them. Doing this will allow you to reap the large rewards that retargeting can bestow upon your ABM campaign.
A third way to cultivate your ABM relationships is to enroll them in an email nurturing campaign. You can set this up by ensuring that any form fills that you place in any of your ABM campaigns or resources a) capture an email address and b) disclaim that by filling the form out, prospects are enrolling in an email nurture program.
This way, whenever someone downloads a resource or fills out one of your campaign forms, they are automatically enrolled in an automated email nurture sequence that explains the asset they just acquired, and then leads them further down the funnel towards a sale. The best part about email nurtures is that, while they do take time and effort to set up, once you have them established, they are a phenomenal way to gently lead prospects down the funnel with no additional work.
Here’s an example email nurture:
Cultivating your outbound relationships requires dedication, empathy, and constant tweaking to be successful. But if you are able to create a comprehensive repository of assets and are willing to spend the time to educate and add-value for your prospects, you will create a continuous pipeline of leads and resulting revenue for your business.
Congratulations! You’ve done all the hard work of targeting, messaging, and nurturing your prospects. Many of you would think the work is over -- but no! Now comes the most important step: Harnessing the enthusiasm of these newly acquired customers to generate even newer ones with testimonials, case studies, and referrals.
Here is where the rubber really meets the road for your ABM campaign. After all, no one can promote your company to prospects like current customers. Your customers have been through the exact buyer's journey of many of your prospects. Your current customers were in the prospect’s shoes not too long ago, felt their pain, and looked for a solution, just like your prospects do now. This instills a type of trust in prospects that is very difficult for you to garner on your own. However, harnessing the enthusiasm of your best customers creates invaluable collateral for your prospects and shows them the difference you can make for their organizations.
Mapping your customer journey is a crucial step in understanding the customer experience and identifying possible referral sources. The customer journey map enables you to visualize who your customers are so you can build connections and bridge the gap between sales, marketing and operations. Most importantly, it will tell you which customers are ready, and at what point are they ready to join your referral program.
When mapping your customer journey, do the following to make you’re optimizing resources + including all of your inputs:
While all customer-facing, each of these teams will bring different perspectives and experiences to the table. Each of these roles experiences different pain points of the customer along the buyer’s journey, and can identify ways to reduce friction. For example, the customer success team might know that customers struggle with integrating your software with another product, providing you with additional insight into how to make the customer experience better for others.
Take notes of your in-depth conversations with different members from each of these teams, and weave their insights into a cohesive journey map. Make sure to keep everyone updated throughout this process + give them plenty of opportunities to see into your work and add their own perspective. They all view different parts of the customer’s journey, and intersecting their insight is what creates a truly robust + strong customer journey map.
The best time to ask your customers for a referral is -- you guessed it -- all of the time!
Don’t think you shouldn’t ask for referrals right when you get a customer, though. Think about when someone buys a car -- when someone is driving it off the dealer lot, they’re typically excited to tell others about the big decision they just made. They put a lot of thought and time into making this big decision, and are likely to share this with others as a positive experience.
When you’re asking for referrals, make sure you research different automated referral programs. Use discount codes to facilitate a “give some, get some” transaction where your customer benefits from giving you a referral. When planning the timing of your requests, you can plan requests over 4 different times: as part of a “post-purchase survey,” a “post-go-live survey,” during an annual check-up or even when your customer pays. Regardless of when you plan this, remember that your referral campaign doesn’t have a beginning or an end -- it should be a continuous process.
Wondering how to turn your current customers into lead-generators? Use referral programs to incentivize customers to bring in new leads with a focus on audience, engagement and incentive.
No one tells your story better than your customers. So why not quote them directly? Testimonials harness the customer’s voice and allow them to directly communicate with prospects. These assets are great for showing more qualitative attributes of your product/service like dependability, ease of use, proactiveness, customer service, etc. as well as one or two high-level performance statistics.
These marketing assets add tremendous value for future customers + prospects in your buyer’s journey as middle-of-the-funnel content -- if someone’s wondering about their fit with your product, hearing happy + successful customers rave about your fantastic customer service or quick turnaround times will put their worries to rest & give you an advantage over your competitors when they’re making their shortlist.
When you’re making testimonials, call a few of your best clients and ask them to talk about their experience with your solution -- try to highlight the pain points they’ve solved, the “before” and “after,” and the other benefits you’ve given them to make their lives and work better.
While testimonials are human-centric and empathetic, a case study is an example of a scenario with your work to change their lives. Case studies allow you to illustrate and explain how you achieved success in a specific situation, or in this case, from your ABM campaign, so your customers or prospects can see your work in action. Proving your work and track record with a case study establishes trust, converts leads, attracts traffic through SEO, and it’s a great way to write in a referral.
The importance of a case study cannot be overstated -- it’s a crucial piece of content for MQLs who are on the fence and considering your solution, and others in the consideration stage of your buyer’s journey. It’s also important for top-of-the-funnel leads interested in learning about the general applications + ways to use a solution like yours (& see if their problem matches up to your customers), and convince other leads in the bottom of the funnel that your past customer successes make you a good fit for them.
Because you want to create content that illustrates the value of your solution to a prospective customer, ask questions that target the original problem, identify the solution and intended outcomes, extract measurable results (statistics, metrics, etc.). This will help your prospect relate to the context and reduce friction during the buyer’s journey.
We recommend recording your conversations with clients to capture VOC (voice of the customer) quotes and verbatims. These can be used within the final version of the written case study to add social proof – and used in other assets like sales enablement materials and on the website to build trust. To start making your first case study, use the outline below to guide content and fill in this template.
Now that you understand the framework and goals of account-based marketing, it’s time to put your knowledge to the test. If you’re still not sure where to start, remember that account-based marketing is centripetal around identifying your serviceable obtainable market (SOM) and actively pursuing them with the right content, messaging and cultivation.
It may seem overwhelming at first, but it’ll get easier and easier over time. Properly executed account based marketing will deliver the results you want. Just be patient & monitor your progress -- from A/B testing with outbound messaging to measuring your content’s effectiveness when driving the buyer’s journey.
And you know by now that your work doesn’t end once you’ve secured those relationships -- it’s extremely beneficial to nurture those relationships and encourage referrals, testimonials, case studies and verbatims that will encourage future prospects.
Thanks for reading -- happy account based marketing!